Lawmakers blast AF for Ramstein project delays
June 29, 2007
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers and congressional investigators blasted Air Force officials Thursday for a “total failure” of management and oversight of the still-unfinished mall and hotel complex at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
“U.S. project officials live and work every day next to the facility … yet it is over budget, behind schedule and falling apart,” said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. “The Air Force has failed in its responsibilities to conduct proper planning and oversight.”
In testimony before the committee, Brig. Gen. Danny Gardner, director of installations for U.S. Air Forces Europe, acknowledged the service has made mistakes in the four-year-old project, but blamed most of the cost overruns and delays on inefficient German contractors.
The project, the Pentagon’s largest single-site construction in the world, was originally slated to be a $150 million facility completed in April 2006 to serve troops passing through the air base and families living there.
Today the construction has no estimated completion date and controversy surrounding its total cost. Gardner said his office anticipates the final bill will be just under the $181 million Air Force officials have budgeted for the project.
But Gregory Kutz, managing director of special investigations at the Government Accountability Office, told the committee that estimate was overly optimistic and unrealistic, saying the total will easily top $200 million.
“It’s hard to believe you can have an accurate estimate without having scheduled a completion date,” he said.
Reports from the GAO and an Air Force audit finished last week place much of the blame on the Air Force’s decision to accept risky contracts and procedures early in the project, and a failure to adequately monitor progress as time passed.
Service officials opted not to use Army Corps of Engineers to supervise the project despite a lack of contracting and construction knowledge among its staff, the reports say.
And only eight administrators were charged with monitoring progress and handling cost issues, despite the project’s size.
USAFE officials and Gardner said those issues are not the reason for the major problems that have plagued construction. Under international agreements, German authorities were given most of the site control for the project, and mistakes and possible illegal deals made by those contractors lead to the current problem.
“Overall, we had trust in our contracting agent,” Gardner said. “Under international agreements, they are expected to build this within their own rights and own responsibilities.”
The GAO report details numerous problems with the hotel and mall, including severe leaks in the roof, vandalism in unfinished rooms that went unnoticed by contractors, improper wiring in bathrooms and flammable sealant used near ovens in kitchen units.
Lawmakers blamed the Air Force for missing chances to catch those problems earlier, and criticized a decision to fast-track contracts and construction despite objections from other military agencies.
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., called it “bizarre” that officials didn’t ask more questions about more than 700 change orders seeking additional funding. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said he was baffled that others didn’t notice the project was behind schedule until just a few months before it the scheduled completion date.
“I don’t believe you’re going to do better next time, unless you start out with a better attitude on how to handle these projects,” Issa said.